Soccer: Smeltz hoping to be fit for World Cup playoff

Shane Smeltz knows time is against him if he's to be fit for the All Whites' FIFA World Cup qualifiers later this year. Photo / Getty Images.
Shane Smeltz knows time is against him if he's to be fit for the All Whites' FIFA World Cup qualifiers later this year. Photo / Getty Images.

Timing is everything for a striker and Shane Smeltz is now in a race against time to fit for the All Whites' high-stakes World Cup playoff in November.

The 31-year-old has had surgery on a long-term hip injury and hopes to be back playing towards the end of October. The All Whites take on the fourth-best nation from North and Central America for a spot at next year's World Cup in Brazil, with the return leg in Wellington on November 20.

The All Whites' opponents have yet to be found, although Honduras and Panama are looming as possibilities, with the first game on November 15. Perth open their A-League season on October 13.

"No matter what, I needed to go in and get it done otherwise I would have just been battling through so that was the major part of the decision and then, obviously, looking at the season and then the All Whites,'' Smeltz said. "At this stage I'll probably miss the first few couple of games of the A-League season.

"[You] can do as much training as you like but, until you play games, you're not match fit. Normally you'd expect to play three or four games to get in the groove again, really. Your first one or two may be a little bit rusty.''

All Whites coach Ricki Herbert has a myriad of options up front with the likes of Chris Wood, Chris Killen, Jeremy Brockie, Marco Rojas and Kosta Barbarouses but Smeltz is still the premier striker.

He has scored 23 international goals to sit second behind Vaughan Coveny (28) on the all-time scoring list and has scored crucial goals for both club and country. He famously scored in the 1-1 draw with Italy at the 2010 World Cup, has twice won the A-League golden boot award - he's the league's leading scorer - and in 2008/09 won the Johnny Warren Medal as the A-League's best player.

It has been a difficult past couple of years for Smeltz on the injury front. He needed 53 stitches to a gruesome facial injury after an elbow to his head early in the the 2012 A-League grand final against Brisbane and he needed more stitches after being kicked in the head in the 2-1 World Cup qualifying win over New Caledonia in March.

- APNZ

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